Will Manhattan voters be willing to fund park and recreation improvements through a sales tax increase this November? The answer to that questions remains to be seen. At Tuesday night’s Manhattan City Commission work session, commissioners heard the final report on the Parks and Recreation Facility Feasibility Study and mulled over various options for funding the new facilities and improvements.
The proposed $27.5 million stimulus includes new gymnasiums at the Douglas Center, Susan B. Anthony Middle School, and Dwight D. Eisenhower Middle School. It would also factor in 12 new tennis courts at CiCo park along with significant improvements the ball diamonds. Leftover funds would be used to match private donations to the Asian exhibit at Sunset Zoo as well as improve trails. Architect Bruce McMillan was present to walk commissioners through the plans.
The proposed buildings and upgrades would be funded by a ten-year, quarter-cent “quality-of-life” sales tax increase that would take the place of an existing sales tax.
In 2009, voters approved a ten-year, quarter-cent sales tax increase to fund the construction of the Sunset Zoo Nature Exploration Center and improvements to the city’s pools. The bonds which funded the projects nearly a decade ago have been paid off early due to sales tax numbers that have outperformed estimates three-to-one. Commissioners approved the first draft of a ballot issue that would end the current quarter-cent sales tax, and immediately set up a different sales tax that would be used for the improvements at CiCo Park and at USD 383’s middle schools. If Manhattan voters approved the question the sales tax rate in Manhattan would stay 8.95%.
The parks and recreation advisory board as well as a special steering committee approved the final feasibility study and funding recommendations.
Deputy City Manager Jason Hilgers introduced the three different funding options, all of which were dependent on the sales tax question passing. Commissioners largely favored the third option, which would stagger construction over a five-year-period from 2020 to 2025. There would be no interest.
“Paying as we go gives us opportunity to leverage development, and avoid using sales tax dollars on interest,” said Hilgers. One plan would have accounted for $12.5 million in interest, with all facilities being complete by 2020.
“It’s not gonna please everybody — taxes are an issue, and they always will be.”
Hilgers set forth a timeline for commissioners, who took no action at last night’s work session. The city commission must pass a resolution for the ballot question next month in order for it to be on the November ballot. If the issue passes, the current quarter-cent sales tax would expire on March 31, 2018, and the “new” tax would talk effect on April 1.
Many community members were present to stump for the proposed parks and recreation improvements, including many members of the Parks and Recreation advisory board. Chairman Ed Klimek encouraged commissioners to look at the improvements as a quality of life issue.
“We’re woefully, woefully behind comparable cities,” said the former mayor. “We have a responsibility to provide these facilities.”
USD 383 assistant superintendent Eric Reid also spoke on behalf of the district, and affirmed the school’s commitment to cooperating with the city to make sure the gymnasiums at both middle schools will benefit both entities. Commissioners are expecting the 12 new tennis courts, revamped baseball fields, and 8 new indoor basketball courts to make Manhattan a destination for tournament and recreational play and generate sales tax dollars.